Healthcare workers must be especially cognizant of how easily pathogens spread. As such, it is becoming more common for employers to require workers to avoid long sleeves. Garments with long sleeves can increase transmission rates of certain kinds of pathogens simply by acting as carriers between patients and other workers.
In light of that, it is interesting to note that an Israeli company that specializes in copper-infused textiles is also one of the leading makers of surgical masks now being used to combat the spread of coronavirus. The surgical masks are also infused with copper. Could copper infusion be the secret to slowing down the spread of future illnesses and diseases in the healthcare setting?
Copper’s Antimicrobial Properties
Copper is both a chemical element and a metal. It is soft, malleable, and offers excellent electrical and thermal conductivity. Interestingly enough, microbes that come in contact with copper surfaces do not live long. This particular property is something that humankind has known for centuries.
According to a 2011 study published in the Applied and Environmental Microbiology journal, “bacteria, yeasts, and viruses are rapidly killed on metallic copper surfaces, and the term “contact killing” has been coined for this process.” The study goes on to say that the contact killing phenomena has been known since ancient times.
In more recent history, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has already registered at least five copper alloy products as suitable for killing bacteria. Thus, it is clear that copper has useful applications in healthcare settings. So why not copper-infused healthcare uniforms?
From Scrubs to Lab Coats
Alsco, the company that pioneered uniform rental in the U.S., says that healthcare uniforms typically involve scrubs and lab coats. It is not unusual for uniform providers to also supply bed and bath linens as well. All could be infused with copper for superior antimicrobial benefits.
Unfortunately, the process of creating copper-infused textiles is not that simple. It is both complicated and time-consuming. Moreover, there aren’t many companies doing it. That may change now that the world is looking at the possibility of a significant coronavirus pandemic.
In the absence of copper-infused uniforms and linens, companies like Alsco rely on proven laundering systems that produce hygienically clean hospital linens. These are linens that do not just look clean; they are delivered to customers free of pathogens and microbes. Laundry facilities certified as hygienically clean utilize the latest procedures and technologies to guarantee that they are delivering what they promise.
A Motivation to Change
Tens of thousands of people being sickened by coronavirus is certainly not a good thing. But if there is a silver lining, it might be found in the possibility that the coronavirus outbreak will motivate change. Perhaps it will create a market that encourages more companies to start producing copper-infused textiles. Maybe it will give birth to an entirely new industry that manufactures specialized uniforms and bed linens for the healthcare environment.
Interestingly enough, the same Israeli company that produces the copper-infused surgical masks has the ability to infuse all sorts of things into cotton. According to the Jerusalem Post, they have even developed a type of cotton that will not burn.
The point of all of this is to say that science is learning a lot about textiles as time marches on. We could be on the verge of developing self-sterilizing textiles that are capable of significantly reducing the risks of spreading disease in the healthcare setting. By this time next year, hospitals could be looking at the very real possibility of investing in copper-infused uniforms and bed linens.